15 August 2009

the capacity alone

"In truth, the sale of that cabinet grieved me very much at the time; and often since I have thought of it with regret: but when I consider that it was a necessary means of awakening a taste in me, of developing a talent, which will operate far more powerfully on my history than ever those lifeless pictures could have done, I easily content myself, and honour destiny, which knows how to bring about what is best for me, and what is best for every one."
  "It gives me pain to hear this word destiny in the mouth of a young person, just at the age when men are commonly accustomed to ascribe their own violent inclinations to the will of higher natures."
  "You, then, do not believe in destiny? No power that rules over us and directs all for our ultimate advantage?"
  "The question is not now of my belief, nor is this the place to explain how I may have attempted to form for myself some not impossible conception of things which are incomprehensible to all of us: the question here is, What mode of viewing them will profit us the most? The fabric of our life is formed of necessity and chance: the reason of man takes its station between them, and may rule them both; it treats the necessary as the groundwork of its being; the accidental it can direct and guide, and employ for its own purposes: and only while this principle of reason stands firm and inexpungnable, does man deserve to be named the god of this lower world. But woe to him who, from his youth, has used himself to search in necessity for something of arbitrary will; to ascribe to chance a sort of reason, which it is a matter of religion to obey. Is conduct like this aught else than to renounce one's understanding, and give unrestricted scope to one's inclinations? We think it is a kind of piety to move along without consideration; to let accidents that please us determine our conduct; and, finally, to bestow on the result of such a vacillating life the name of providential guidance."
  "Was it never your case that some little circumstance induced you to strike into a certain path, where some accidental occurrence erelong met you, and a series of unexpected incidents at length brought you to some point which you yourself had scarcely once contemplated? Should not lessons of this kind teach us obedience to destiny, confidence in some such guide?"
  "With opinions like these, no woman could maintain her virtue, no man keep the money in his purse; for occasions enough are occurring to get rid of both. He alone is worthy of respect, who knows what is of use to himself and others, and who labours to control his self-will. Each man has his own fortune in his hands; as the artist has a piece of rude matter, which he is to fashion to a certain shape. But the art of living rightly is like all arts; the capacity alone is born with us; it must be learned, and practiced with incessant care."

Goethe, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship Vol. 1 (82-84)